October 6, 2008
For more than a year, South Texas residents have complained about the federal government's lack of transparency in its efforts to construction the border fence.
A lack of consultation, residents say, has bred confusion in border communities like Brownsville, where landowners are still waiting to hear how the barrier will affect their property.
But a new program sponsored by both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Texas Border Coalition - unlikely bedfellows after a year of fence-related friction - could answer lingering questions about the future of border security in South Texas.
The program, informally called "Walk the Line," will give residents the opportunity to inspect the predicted footprint of the border fence with some of the barrier's architects.
"We expect to get input from the people who live in these areas," said Angela de Rocha, a DHS spokeswoman. "We're still planning community outreach even though we've begun awarding contracts."
The tours, which will be offered in late October or early November, are expected to span much of the southwest border.
"Community leaders will be able to physically see where the fence will be built... and gain the knowledge they've been seeking for nearly a year," said Billy Moore, a TBC consultant.
DHS held a series of town hall meetings on the fence last fall, but many criticized the meetings, alleging that there was no room for constructive dialogue. TBC Chairman Chad Foster was one of the leading critics of the government's open houses, which he called little more than "meals in restaurants and phone calls."
When the project ran out of money in September, U.S. Rep David Price, D-NC, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, approved an additional $378 million dollars for fence construction, but stipulated that consultation between the government and border communities should continue.
In September, Price suggested that DHS "revisit border areas that remain in dispute with local communities... and seek to improve the hands-on consultation process."
For many Cameron County residents, "Walk the Line" could be a last opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback before construction begins.
"They want to know where there are going to be gates," TBC's Moore said. "Our goal is to provide them with these kinds of critical answers."